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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Very messy information; messy information … and tidy information

    Search engines have for years given us very messy information: crude searching in the body of an unspecified range of documents against a couple of search terms resulting in mass without merit, art lost in aggregation.

    Social information management improves on this and gives us messy information. That is, folksonomy sites - such as Connotea or Flickr - crudely classify the content that may, or may not, otherwise be found through search engines and, in so doing, bring it together.

    Google Book Search has spawned several look-alike projects – all of which, if we are honest, are emulating Gutenberg – and it will not be long before a substantial core of knowledge is digitized and searchable. As Weinberger says, the data becomes the metadata (or Kroski: “Metadata is now in the realm of the Everyman”) – who needs a library catalogue (only searchable by author, title, etc) when you can search the author’s own content?

    Wikipedia was in the news this week for content that was a little messier than it should have been, but Wiki projects (e.g. Wikibooks) are yet another form of social information management which facilitate the control of information by the people.

    We have moved from the neat, library-world of managed information and organized knowledge – tidy information – through a very messy web of information into, or almost into, a stage – perhaps ‘Web 1.9’ – of messy information. Messy information has lots of merits (certainly compared to very messy information), but its anarchic nature limits its use for serious research to the point at which it can only be an adjunct, an additional source of information. How long will it be before we go full circle, messy once again becomes tidy, and the Web delivers useful, reliable, relevant information… and librarians are really are out of a job?

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